Last updated: 11:00 AM ET, Mon May 11 2015

Opinion Home | Why Wales? Discover Britain's Road Less Traveled!

  • Visit Wales Staff Writer | May 11, 2015 11:00 AM ET

    Wales: Europe's Castle Capital

    Wales: Europe's Castle Capital

    Sword-and-sorcery lovers take note: Wales is home to more castles per square mile than any other country in Europe. There are 641 castles to be exact. Some are as big as football fields; others are mansions that were built in the Victorian era. There are Roman ruins and grand edifices from the days of medieval courts. The historic castles of Wales dot the landscape with such regularity that, anytime and anywhere you are in the country, you're never far from one.

    Take Cardiff Castle, located in the capital of Wales. The fortress was center stage in the world media as host to a banquet honoring world leaders at the 2014 NATO Summit. Layers of history speak from within this amazing structure. Inside remain a Norman castle keep, an ancient Roman wall, and a Victorian-era mansion – this elaborately furnished castle was built by the Marquess of Bute in the 1840s. It is situated within an original structure created by Norman invaders on the site of a Roman fort. The grand dining room and reception halls of the mansion are all open to the public for tours and you can spend hours wandering through these treasure-filled rooms.

    Cardiff castle is also a frequent site for film and TV locations including “Dr. Who, Sherlock” and “Torchwood” (movie and television location tours are available on weekends). Another interesting feature is the network of tunnels beneath the castle that were used in the Second World War for refuge during the Blitz. A 30-minute tour of the tunnels is available on weekends as well.

    History is also very much on display at Pembroke Castle, which has the unique distinction of being the birthplace of Henry VII, father of the much-loved-by-TV-series, King Henry VIII. Fans of “The Tudors” and “Wolf Hall” will be fascinated by the pre-Tudor tales told in the castle. Pembroke also has a series of animated, live-action historical figures narrating the castle's history.

    Although most of the castles in Wales, like Pembroke, are from the medieval era or older, some of the country’s biggest and most beautiful castles are "fantasy" castles – built in the Victorian period to "mock Gothic" appearance. Castell Coch, for instance, was built by architect William Burges for the third Marquess of Bute – the same pair that created the ornate design of Cardiff Castle. Burges was considered an “eccentric genius” and truly let his imagination run wild as he designed Castell Coch. Visitors can spend hours exploring the contents of the property, including lavish furniture and decorative ceilings.  

    You can spend the day at Castell Coch, Pembroke and Cardiff Castles, and you can spend the night at Ruthin. This castle-turned-hotel is fit for a king or queen – literally. The property’s history dates back to the late 13th century and has associations to the legends of King Arthur. It is believed that a knight and Arthur fought over a ladies' charms here and that Arthur bested the knight and beheaded him (you can see the spot in town). The current castle is built on and around the original ruins and is now a four-star hotel that has the distinction of being one of the best places for a medieval banquet in Wales. The hotel's feast lets travelers join in rented costumes or in modern day dress and features old fashioned Welsh entertainment done by costumed lords and ladies. The castle also has a ghost like most good castles do. Ruthin's is a "grey lady" who wanders the ramparts and is said to have been a wronged wife who did away with her ex with an axe.

    As at Ruthin, the past comes vibrantly alive at King Edward I’s famed Iron Ring of Castles – a UNESCO World Heritage Site in Wales. This site includes the castles at Beaumaris, Conwy, Caernarfon and Harlech. They were built to secure King Edward I’s reign in Wales. All four castles were designed by architect James de Saint George and are open to the public for day visits.

    Beaumaris, located on the Isle of Anglesey, is as huge as a football field. It's a concentric castle and the largest of the four – a great way to get your bearings is to stand in the middle and take it all in. The charm and history of the Isle of Anglesey, with its connections to Welsh Druids who are said to have made their last stand here against the Romans, is another great reason for journeying to Beaumaris.

    Harlech's stunning cliff views of the Irish Sea make it a beloved castle for photographers and other scenically-minded travelers. Conwy Castle is a fortress of awe-inspiring beauty and is considered by some to be the most magnificent link in the "chain." Conwy’s interior, including private chambers and a royal chapel, give modern-day visitors a vibrant view of what life was like in Wales during King Edward’s reign. Finally, there's Caernarfon – this castle was the site of Prince Charles’ investiture in 1969 and has an exhibit dedicated to the Prince of Wales.

    One of the best ways to tour the castles of Wales is to purchase a Cadw Explorer Pass. These passes are available in three- and seven-day options for a one-time fee and grant visitors access to a bounty of sites in Wales – including many of the castles mentioned. The word cadw in Welsh means "to keep, to protect" and that's what you'll be doing by supporting the organization and using this time saving, value added pass. You can purchase Cadw Explorer Passes in any denomination from Avanti Destinations which offers customized, independent vacations in Wales.

    More than 600 intriguing and romantic castles make Wales one of the best destinations in the world for history and fantasy lovers to explore: the perfect place with which to "crown" their travels.


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Visit Wales Staff Writer Why Wales? Discover Britain's Road Less Traveled!

Visit Wales Staff Writer Visit Wales is the New York-based government tourism office for Wales, one of four countries that make up the United Kingdom. A land with 641 castles, 870 miles of walkable coastline, three national parks and award-winning cuisine, Wales offers travelers a variety of activities and different landscapes to explore. The country's Celtic history and ancient language make it a distinctive British destination. For more information on Wales travel, trade can visit and consumers can visit
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